This statement needn’t be said again, but here it is: a healthy brain is critical to life. Without a properly functioning brain, everything that makes you who you are will diminish, if not disappear. The truth is, we must take responsibility for engaging in healthy brain habits.
Despite this fact, billions of people across the globe either (a) don’t consider their brain health, (b) take their brain health for granted, or (c) don’t understand the significance of the matter.
Anyone who has received even a primary science education is aware of the brain’s importance. We’re less conscious, however, of the brain’s inner-workings. Hence, the need for articles such as this one. In this article, we’re going to focus our attention on the healthy brain habits.
But to refresh our memory on the brain’s cruciality, let’s talk some basic brain science!
Why you should embrace better brain habits
“The human brain has 100 billion neurons, [with] each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.” ~ Michio Kaku, world-renowned quantum physicist (Source)
The human brain is the central structure of our nervous system. It’s made up of the cerebrum, brainstem, and cerebellum. The cerebrum contains the cognizing part of the brain, the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is comprised of four lobes, the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital.
The prefrontal areas of the frontal lobes are thought to enable the executive functions (EFs) of our brain. Among the EFs are – attention, inhibition, initiation, planning, self-monitoring, self-regulation, and working memory (long-term memory functions occur in the brain’s hippocampus.)
Here are some other interesting facts about the brain:
- It weighs about 3-1/3 pounds, which is the largest of all vertebrates by total body weight. This number adds up to about 2 percent of a person’s body weight, on average.
- The male brain is slightly larger than females, at 1,274 cubic centimeters to 1,131 cubic centimeters, respectively. (No correlation exists between brain size and intelligence, however. Sorry men!)
- The cerebrum is the largest area of the brain, accounting for about 85 percent of its total weight.
- The brain contains around 90 billion neurons (nerve cells) – referred to as our brain’s “gray matter.” It also includes billions of axons and dendrites (nerve fibers) – referred to as the brain’s “white matter.”
- The very high number of neurons per unit volume in the human brain is thought to explain why our species is much more intelligent than any other known species.
- Connecting the neurons and permitting communication are trillions (!) of small junctions called synapses.
The brain, of course, serves a multitude of critical services. Scientists organize these byproducts of the brain by region.
- Frontal lobe: Organizational abilities, behavior, emotional control, and personality.
- Parietal lobe: Ability to understand the relationship between objects and space (“spatial ability,” written and spoken language.
- Occipital lobe: Controls vision
- Temporal lobe: Controls comprehension, memory, and speech
- Brain stem: Regulates alertness level, blood pressure, and state of consciousness.
- Cerebellum: Houses the fine motor skills, enabling physical coordination.
- Grey and white matter: Grey matter analyzes information; white matter enables the communication between grey matter areas.
15 of the Healthiest Brain Habits
These fifteen healthy brain habits are simple to do. Incorporating these into your lifestyle will give you a healthy brain both now and in the future.
1. Eating brain-boosting foods
“You are what you eat,” as the old saying goes – and this applies to your brain as well. Here are some of the best foods for brain health.
Oily fish is an outstanding source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for proper neuron development. Fatty acids help to synthesize a protective sheath around neurons called myelin, which is essential to proper communication between nerve cells. Additionally, per a 2017 study, omega-3 fatty acids improve blood flow to the brain.
Try fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, cod, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies, caviar. Some scrumptious omega-3 foods include chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans.
Affectionately referred to by some as “brain berries,” blueberries are among the best antioxidants there is. Oxidative stress contributes to brain aging and negatively impacts proper brain function. They may also help improve your intelligence.
You can also choose blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries for some tasty variations.
Now we’re talkin’! Dark chocolate is another food that is an outstanding source of antioxidants. This benefit is mostly due to the treat’s high content of cacao, which may also help to promote blood vessel and neuronal growth as well as increase blood flow.
Nuts and seeds:
Nuts and seeds are yet another source of quality antioxidants. As a bonus, they also contain a right amount of omega-3s and are a great alternative to vegetarians and vegans who abstain from fish. Studies show that nuts and seeds may help to slow age-related cognitive decline.
2. Developing equanimity
Believe it or not, there are people out there who bring a sort-of even-keeled mindset to just about every situation. These folks aren’t easily ruffled and manage to both demonstrate a certain unflappability while invoking a sense of calm in others as well.
Why is this important? Well, not only is it a much more peaceful and engaging way to live, an equanimous state of mind is marvelous for brain health.
High cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels link directly to impaired memory. Chronic stress may also shrink areas of the brain. Fortunately, due to the brain’s impressive resilience, we can “reverse” this process. The best way to do this is through meditation, which, according to brain experts, “…rewires the brain and [improves neuroprotection]…which predicts longer life expectancy.”
3. Doing moderate exercise
The importance of exercise for your brain health can not be overemphasized. Studies show that when you live a sedentary lifestyle, you’re more susceptible to brain aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Exercise improves your memory, your mental processing, and it gives you a sense of well-being. Physical activity is essential to a healthy brain.
Contrary to what some of the health nuts say, you needn’t develop the endurance of a triathlete to improve your health significantly. Research shows that even moderate physical activity – whether it’s through biking, jogging, brisk walking, or light weightlifting – may contribute to enhanced cognitive performance.
So whether you walk, ride a bike, swim, or work out at the gym, try to get at least 35 minutes of exercise every day for the most benefit.
The reason why exercise is so useful for the brain is that physical activity releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which repairs neurons and strengthens the connection between neurons.
Light exercise also helps to release endorphins, which can lift your mood. Finally, aerobic exercise (e.g., jogging, running, or brisk walking) increases blood flow to the brain and reduces the risk of brain damage from both hypertension and high cholesterol.
The brain is not some static entity – it’s always evolving, for better or for worse.
It wasn’t long ago that neuroscientists believed things like intelligence and brain structure were fixed, unchanging. We now know that this is untrue.
Neuroplasticity, a term that speaks to the malleability of the brain, is a relatively recent phenomenon that demonstrates – in no uncertain terms – that the brain is changing throughout life.
Enhancing the brain for the better requires that we put it to work. The best way to do that is by stimulating the brain’s processes through cognitive challenges.
David S. Knopman, a clinical neurologist, says, “…higher cognitive activity [bestows upon] the brain a greater ability to endure the effects of [things like disease better] compared to a person with lower cognitive engagement…”
What kind of activity? That’s up to you.
The important thing is to engage your brain in such activity regularly. Making this a daily habit is probably best. And remember, it must be challenging, but not to the point of being undoable.
5. Making social connections
We’re all well aware by now that humans are social animals. We live and work in groups with very few exceptions.
Evolution has hardwired this need for connection into the brain’s workings. One example of this evolutionary byproduct is the effects of everyday conversation. Research shows that verbal interaction is crucial for the brain’s development, including in areas such as attention, memory, social awareness, speech, and thinking.
Social connections may even help to protect against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s. Per a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, interaction with others may safeguard the brain against dementia.
6. Start sleeping well
Sleep is a critical part of good brain health. Inadequate sleep – a problem that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls an “epidemic” contributes to psychological as well as physiological illnesses.
According to an article published by Scientific American, among the critical roles that proper sleep plays in the promotion of brain health are:
- consolidation of long-term memory
- elimination of toxins and dead brain cells
- replenishment of brain energy (glucose)
- support of learning and memory.
- regulation of mood
- stabilization of appetite
- maintenance of sexual drive (libido)
While the recommended sleep duration may vary by source, most evidence appears to suggest that 7 to 9 hours of quality shuteye is the most beneficial brain habits for mental and physical health.
7. Get creative
Believe it or not, right before bedtime, when you’re relaxed, you’re often most creative. Studies found that innovative discoveries often arise when you’re not focusing on them. Perhaps you’ve had this experience when some solution you’d been working on for days suddenly pops into your brain while you were taking a shower. Your mind has so much creative potential. Be sure to tap into it right before you fall asleep.
8. Take a power nap
Power naps aren’t just for grandma. A refreshing brief nap is often the best thing for your brain. Even a 20-minute nap gives your mind the rest it needs to function better the rest of the day. So, don’t resist a little snooze in the afternoon. Avoid taking your nap too late in the afternoon; otherwise, it may interrupt your ability to sleep at night.
9. Take an omega-3 supplement
Your brain is the most critical organ in your body. It controls every organ, movement, and thought you have. Proper nutrition is essential to safeguard your mind. Omega3 fatty acids, studies found, supports good brain health. When you take an omega-3 supplement, be sure that you do the following things:
- You take only 1,000 mg. a day
- Your supplement contains both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- You choose a good quality supplement with a seal from US Pharmacopeia, NSF International or ConsumerLab.com
10. Focus on one thing at a time
Although multi-tasking is a popular trend, it’s not possible for your brain to do two things at once. Your mind works best when you focus totally on one project. Set aside your phone and completed your task, you’ll be surprised at the efficiency of your thoughts and productivity when you focus on one thing instead of three.
11. Learn a language
¿Comprende? Learning is always a healthy brain activity. Mastering an unfamiliar language forces your brain to adapt, to develop better cognitive skills, and makes you mentally more flexible. Language acquisition also improves our listening skills and problem-solving abilities. So load that new language app on your iPhone or sign up for a language course for your brain’s sake.
12. Word games are fun brain habits
An active brain is a healthy brain. Words games activate the part of your mind where language occurs. Doing word games or puzzles enhances this area’s activity causing your brain to exercise and work harder. People who play word games find they think better and can stay focused longer. Can you spell H-E-A-L-T-H-Y B-R-A-I-N?
Yoga stimulates your brain, boosting its function, and some researchers say, even it’s structure. When you practice yoga, it increases the amount of gray matter in your brain. This kind of brain increase is also seen in people who do aerobic exercise, but yoga has less impact on your joints and muscles, so it’s a safer option.
14. Flood your mind with positivity
Staying positive has potent side effects. Studies found when you have a positive outlook on life. You protect your body from stress. Hope helps you focus more on your goals and boosts your immune system, so you feel happier. A positive attitude also benefits your brain’s function. Here’s a list of ways to increase your positivity.
- Get a dog: Pets boost your mood. You feel better when you have a furry buddy to hang out with or take walks.
- Faith: Having faith in God improves your outlook on life and can make you a more positive person.
- Keep a gratitude journal: Write things you feel grateful for. You’ll be surprised at the good stuff going on in your life.
- Laugh: Watch a funny movie. Have a good belly laugh. Laughing reduces stress and releases chemicals in your brain called endorphins, which make you feel positive about your life.
15. Lower your stress
Lowering your stress is a good safeguard for your brain. Researchers found that chronic stress diminishes the size of your mind where memory and learning take place. It also increases the structure of your brain that increases anxiety. In essence, stress causes your brain to make more stress.